Without Prejudice

For the past two days I attended a settlement course in a very gorgeous hotel. It’s rather late, considering I have been here since last June and know most of the absolute essentials, but it’s still worth to attend, and I got to see new people and had free lunches, yay!

The course is done to help people settling nicely in a host country. Unsettling employees and partners could jeopardize their posting, their unhappiness threaten their productivity because they are worried about other matters rather than their jobs, and the company could loose their valuable resources. So 2 days course in a very nice hotel with free lunches is worth spent.

For those who just come to a new place, or even those who repatriate back after spending years in other countries, this course is very helpful. In fact there were two Scots in our course and even they found many things they didn’t know, and lots of things have changed since they left.

The abovementioned absolute essentials topic covers subjects like transportation, bank, post office, TV, garbage arrangement, and other boring stuffs, which are indeed essential when we just land in a strange land and don’t even know that we have to pay a TV license or how to get the internet connection, or which rubbish that goes to which bin, or understanding postal system. It might seem too easy, but I know a true Scotsman who came back from 4 years overseas posting, and was confident enough to post very important documents without realizing that the system and the pricing has changed, and ended up having constant stomach ache for the next month when he found out his documents were sent to the central post office in Dublin because he didn’t put enough stamp on the envelope and had to wait until they return it, prepare that they will be gone forever. Of course this Scostman got an earful lecture from me every single day, until he got the documents back.

But the first subject is the most interesting one for me. Although I am sure that everybody does it perpetually, it is done subconsciously. We had an exercise which helped us to understand that we can look at the same thing and we can form totally different opinions. We were given an image with the word saying “Jesus is the ONLY way”, and I immediately said it’s plain silly. If it’s said “Jesus is the Way”, I would respect it as the choice of belief. But inserting only in the sentence implies that other religions are wrong, and I wouldn’t respect people who’d think that those don’t worship their God will go to hell. If a person comes to me and tells me that I am right because I am a moslem and I shouldn’t shake my friends’ hands on Christmas, I would react the same way as I did to Jesus-is-the-only-way thing, because I believe everybody is equal before God and who are we to judge what’s best for others. When the image of Ka’bah appeared, some participants associate it with conflict (as Ka’bah is a symbol of Islam, and as people know, Islam doesn’t advert themselves in the right way and is always portrayed with conflict, terror and war), while I – as a moslem – simply want to go there. When the picture of three blonde girls drinking and dancing appeared, one associated the picture with excessive drinking habit of the young people in Western countries, while I said I miss it (they party, not the excessive drinking).

We can’t help to jump into a quick generalization, and put people into boxes and labels because it’s our way to figure them out. But our label and generalization is based on our background and experience which has shaped our perception. The exercise helped us to realise that yellow is yellow, but to some, whenever they see yellow they will think about sunflowers, happiness and carefree spirits, while Wikipedia states it commonly (?) represents age, cowardice and jealousy.

Defining our cultural icons, values, and understanding what has made us as a nation will help us to understand others. At first we will be shocked to see how different people behaving, and we immediately generalized, box and label them as an instant response. But we are blessed with brains which can help us to suspend our judgment and understand that they are simply different and most of the times don’t hold the same values as we do.

Simple gesture like putting our hand on hips, in Indonesia, will be considered rude, especially if you do it towards your senior, but it’s ok to shout at waiters to grab their attention. It is vice versa in Western countries. Americans will have to consciously remind themselves to whisper towards British who are famous for speaking so soft sometimes we barely could hear them. Dutch must remind themselves to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in almost every sentence. Brits should realise that Dutch are not rude, their language is more direct than English. Yes doesn’t necessarily means yes in Asian countries and although it could be frustrating to Westerners, it’s part of Asian culture of saving-face, and it doesn’t mean people are incompetence or hypocrite. I remember I was shocked the first time when my schoolmates in Sydney addressed our lecturers on first name basis, and for the first three months I kept calling them “Sir”. Tattoo on Maorian face is a manifestation of his accomplishment, but we will be uneasy to see a Westerner with a tattoo on his face in the tube to Paddington station because most of us associate tattoo with rebellious behavior.

Some of us, after quick generalization and labeling, are willing to suspend their judgment and along the way will find out that their method is not always working. People are basically the same everywhere, there are good and bad ones, regardless their religion, race, age, and sex. I would like to point at a particular post from this lady, who wrote about her own generalization towards Jews due to her cultural background, and how she perceives them now. On the other hand, you and I could laugh together at this post which the writer thinks he knows everything about Javanese girls (and Javanese culture) just because he had seen, met, dated, and slept with few of them. The guy obviously has put people (Javanese girls) in a certain box with a certain label, but he didn’t go further to suspend his judgment and use his brain to realise that few hundreds girls cannot represent other millions whom he hasn’t met. He hadn’t met me, obviously, for sure!

When we understand both of our and other cultures, we will find out that there are things that we wouldn’t bend, the important values that define us and our culture. But there are things we could, would and should compromise. We can’t sustain Indonesian rubber time mode in most Western countries; 10 minutes late to turn up at the restaurant and your table will be given to someone else. But as Asian and Indonesian we still strongly hold onto our family values, no matter how far our parents away from us are, or no matter how old we are now. My Asian friend would have her mother for 6 months and another her father for 2 months, staying with them in Aberdeen. On the other hand, my European friends say having guests in their house for 2 weeks is more than enough to drive them crazy and they could refuse their own parents to visit them if the time isn’t right, something that most Asians wouldn’t ever think of.

So I hope the waiter would be patience enough to understand that I don’t know if waving to him is normal for me and I don’t know that the gesture is rude in UK. And I hope I be more patient toward a Chinese girl seating on the next table who chews loudly, because although it’s rude for most Indonesians, it’s not rude in Chinese culture, it’s even considered as an appreciation towards the food and the host.



  1. Many of my overseas colleagues find it’s hard to understand, why as an Indonesian moslem I went to Catholic school. I said what’s wrong with that ? In Java, in a single family may have different religions, father a Catholic, mother a Kejawen (Javanese beliefs), children are moslems, and they are able to respect each other without any conflict. How liberal is that ? With my extensive travel to various countries, I’m blessed to be able to see more, understand, and respect other people cultures and believes. Nice readings Anita

  2. Finally Woken says:

    @Toni: I went to Catholic school too. They taught me to be tolerant without having to boast it. I had nothing else but fond memories.

    Hope you enjoy your sparkling wine!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Anita, i really really love your last paragraph. Remember what i wrote in your post eating without prejudice? i mean it.

    i was, feeling rather weird to read people saying they would consider this and that as rude. hm.. maybe i am too naif or pretending to be fake as some might say, but i try my best to just think-people are different and let them be-when i meet differences.

    I am not becoming like this by nature. i must fight my prejudice. but that i can do after people in my surrounding can accept me for whatever i am, without prejudice. can you imagine, i pray nunggang nungging almost every day in my office. but my office mate who grew up not knowing islam at all never asked anything (until i asked them “are you not afraid that i will bomb you sometimes? you know osama bin laden has the same religion as me..” hehe).

    traveling is very good. it really makes me realize how relative norms are.

    i think if you treat people that way-accept them for whatever they are and just try to think positive. InsyaAllah, people will treat you that way too. or at least, you will naifly think people treat you so. thus you won’t be so conscious if they don’t. hehe

    thanks Anita for this nice post. it shows your class. not just an educated person, but also a human being with big heart :)

  4. Anita, believe it or not, my two years old nephew, Alex, always kissing the hand of an elder (even to my pembantu) whenever he says goodbye after spending a few good hours in my place. Alex learned this from his neighbor friends who are born and raised Moslem. As a young tot, Alex learned how to pray in Catholic way and get used to the church songs but he also understands his nanny and the neighbor have to pray 5 times a day. Same goes to my niece, Van. She went to the hospital for some stitches after playing too hard and had her head hit to the edge of a table. Being a brave little girl she is, she didn’t cry much during the stitches. When it was done, she kissed all the nurses hands to say thank you for helping her. The nurses all hugged her and commented they never seen a Chinese little girl did that to them ever. Even though I am not a Moslem, I also know what’s written on top of every mosques here, bismillah, Moslem syahadat in Arabic language, thanks to the “Arab gundul” lessons I learned from my high school time. Many years ago I also purposedly begged my Moslem friend to take me to the mosque because I wanted to see how people performed “wudhu”. Teaching a diversity is best started at young age, don’t you think so?

    ps : unlike you, I cannot tolerate seeing people spitting bones or coughing without covering their mouth like the passengers in Cathay Pacific…arghhh!!! I wanted to kill them because each time I fly with CX I always ended up having cold. And guess what, they were not happy when they asked me in Chinese I could not answer a word back in their language. Yeah..am OCBC (orang cina bukan cina) for I dont speak the language at all except Kamsiah ..LOL!


  1. […] is one thing, but fake medicine can kill us!  There are other two posts I think worth to mention. Without Prejudice is about how we perceive each other and the perception is shaped by many things, like background […]

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